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‘An apology doesn’t pay the bills’: Aberdeen’s WASPI women on fight for pension justice

North-east campaigners Linda Carmichael and Lorraine Rae have highlighted the problems faced by millions of women across Britain.

Linda Carmichael and Lorraine Rae are among the leading WASPI women in Scotland.
Linda Carmichael and Lorraine Rae are among the leading WASPI women in Scotland.

Linda Carmichael has heard all manner of promises and platitudes as the co-chairwoman of the campaign group WASPI Scotland.

Whenever the Aberdonian listens to politicians using phrases such as “in due course” and “without undue delay”, she knows those making such utterances are determined to prolong the agony for the millions of British women who were born in the 1950s and have been unable to claim their state pension at the age of 60.

Earlier this month, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled that as many as 3.6 million women should be paid up to £2,950 each because the government had mishandled changes to the pension age which left many of them facing hardship.

It affects around 50,000 in the north

This figure includes at least 23,000 women in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, 6,400 in Moray and more than 17,000 in the Highlands and Islands.

However, both the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, have refused to commit to fulfilling the report’s payment pledge because of concerns about the potential size of the £8bn-£10bn compensation bill.

And that means there will be more protests, more demonstrations and a fresh flurry of activity from the massed ranks of Women Against State Pension [Age] Inequality.

Linda Carmichael,  front row third from the left, on International Workers Memorial Day 2023 at Persley Walled Garden in Aberdeen, those pictured were laying wreaths in memory of those who were injured or lost their lives at work.

As Linda told the Press & Journal: “It’s not as if we are asking for that much [from the Department of Work and Pensions]. But the reality is that a WASPI woman dies every 13 minutes and an apology doesn’t pay the bills.

“We have been fighting about this issue for the last eight years and, while I welcome the publication of this new report, I am disappointed at the amount of compensation which is being suggested and concerned as to the length of time it will take for us to get it.

“I have lost £42,000 and was given no notice of the delay in my state pension age despite living at this address [in the Granite City] since 1992. More than 270,000 WASPI women have died waiting for compensation. It’s a historic injustice.”

The DWP will act ‘in due course’

However, despite the barrage of publicity for the WASPI cause in recent days, Linda recognises that, with a general election looming, nothing is likely to happen quickly, not least given the reaction from the DWP to what many people consider to be a scandal.

They said: “We will consider the ombudsman’s report and respond in due course, having co-operated fully throughout this investigation.

“The government has always been committed to supporting all pensioners in a sustainable way while also being fair to them and to taxpayers.”

Families splitting up is real sting in the pension tale for Waspi women

There are critics who assert the WASPI group were given plenty of time to prepare for the changes to the regulations. The Pensions Act in 1995 meant that the women’s state pension was designed to increase gradually from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020.

The former Conservative leader, William Hague, who was the architect of the act almost 30 years ago, argued this week that they should have been aware of what was coming down the road and planned for it accordingly, despite not being contacted individually.

‘Hardly a decision that took place in secret’

He said: “A key part of the ombudsman’s case is that many people were still unaware, a decade after the legislation, that the women’s state pension age was changing. I have some sympathy, but still, this was hardly a decision that took place in secret.

“Many millions of people were fully aware of the impending changes over many years. The principle behind the entire policy was to be able to treat people equally.

“None of this, on its own, justifies paying [the women] compensation.”

Lorraine Rae and Linda Carmichael have battled for years against what they regard as pension inequality.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t cut any ice with Linda, nor her colleague Lorraine Rae, who told me about women who have been forced to dig deep into their savings or stack shelves in supermarkets into their 60s to afford to pay the mortgage.

And they pointed out how many of them born in the 1950s started work without the protection of the 1970s equalities legislation. If they married, they often had to leave their jobs. If they became pregnant, there was no maternity leave at their disposal.

‘Remember that we have the vote’

In 2019, Lorraine said: “It feels like we are being discriminated against in the name of equality. We will carry on our campaign for justice with even more fire in our bellies.

“With a general election imminent, MPs need to remember that we have the vote.”

And now, history is poised to repeat itself – and Lorraine’s passion hasn’t diminished.

‘Furious’ north of Scotland WASPI women vow to fight on after losing pension court ruling

As she said: “We are pleased that, after a long wait, we have been vindicated and have achieved a moral victory. But we must now also be compensated financially for the losses we suffered as a result of not being given enough notice of the rise in state pension age for women.

“It’s heartening that there has been a substantial show of support for our cause from all the main political parties, the public and the media.

‘It can’t be swept under the rug’

“We now require compensation without a protracted period of debate and stalling, during which many more Waspi women will die before receiving what they are due.

“We will continue to seek compensation and will not allow our cause, which we have fought for many years, to be swept under the Westminster rug at this crucial stage.”

Linda Carmichael and Lorraine Rae will keep fighting for the WASPI group in Scotland.

And yet, the ombudsman, which was originally created by parliament to investigate public complaints against the government, seems to have scant confidence that the DWP will show any inclination to follow the recommendations it has made.

Its chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said, in scathing terms: “The DWP has clearly indicated that it will refuse to comply which is unacceptable.

‘Parliament needs to act swiftly’

“Given the significant concerns we have that it will fail to act on our findings and, given the need to make things right for the affected women as quickly as possible, we have proactively asked parliament to intervene and hold the department responsible.

“Parliament now needs to act swiftly and make sure a compensation scheme is established. This will provide women with the quickest route to a remedy.”

Linda joked – although it was with a noticeable gallows humour – that it might take a TV drama along the lines of Mr Bates Vs The Post Office to force a wholesale transformation in the political climate at Westminster, but she genuinely fears that, despite the report, the status quo could continue until after the election.

She said: “Our mantra has been ‘fair and fast compensation’, but there has been nothing fast about any of this and if we end up being offered under £3,000, it should definitely not be taxed by the authorities.

“That really would be adding insult to injury.”